Spring Vegetable Risotto

Spring Vegetable Risotto.

Just look at all that green goodness.

Warm, delicious, creamy comfort food at its best.

This time, spruced up for spring with leeks, spinach, asparagus, peas, and lots of fresh green herbs.

Risotto is another one of those fancy pants restaurant dishes that many people are afraid to make at home. Be not afraid. Grab your spoon…there is stirring involved.

Here’s what you need:

Arborio Rice*, Asparagus, Baby Spinach, Leeks, Frozen Peas, Butter, Vegetable Broth, White Wine, Fresh Parsley, Fresh Basil, Parmesan or Romano Cheese, Salt & Pepper (not pictured).

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*Arborio is the rice used to make Risotto. It’s a fat, oddly shaped, stubby rice that has more starch than regular long grain rice. It is pretty popular now and can be found in most grocery stores which is good since to make real, honest risotto you can’t really substitute any other kind of rice.

There are a few important things to know about making risotto:

#1) You must use real Arborio Rice.

#2) Use a pan larger than you think you need to give extra room for stirring and so that the rice has plenty of room to move around and absorb the broth. A pan that is too small will only increase your cooking and stirring time.

#3) You have to stir, stir, stir risotto pretty much the entire time that it cooks. Therefore, it is important to have all of your ingredients chopped and ready to go, grab your favorite beverage, put on some nice music, enlist a friend or helper to stir or keep you company. You have about 20 minutes of stirring. BUT it’s so totally worth it.

Chop the ends off of three nice fresh leeks and cut them in half.

You only want to use the white and light green parts of the leeks as the tops are very tough. Notice all the little bits of dirt on the leeks? Leeks can be very gritty and full of sand and dirt so run these under lots of water, slightly separating the layers to wash all the dirt away.

Slice the clean leeks into thin semicircle pieces and set aside.

To prepare the asparagus, holding on to either end, bend a spear until it snaps natually about 1/3 of the way up the stalk.

This will be the natural break between the tough end and the tasty, tender top part.

You can either continue to snap all of the spears individually OR line them up and using the snapped spear as a guide, cut the ends off all of the remaining spears.

I feel obligated to say that my mother, who is a wonderful cook, would also tell you to remove all those little purple nubby pieces on each stalk. I’m just not that thorough or patient so I rinse my asparagus well and  I leave them on.

Once you’ve removed the tough ends, chop the spears of asparagus into 3 or 4 pieces about 1 inch long.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and toss in a little salt. Quickly cook (the fancy cooking term for this is blanching) the asparagus for one or two minutes.

Immediately remove the asparagus and cool or “shock” it in a bowl of water and ice cubes. This will stop the cooking and lock in the beautiful green color. The asparagus can hang out in the ice water until the risotto is almost done.

In a small saucepan, warm up 4 cups of vegetable broth. You could also use chicken broth but I wanted to keep this light and vegetarian so that the flavors of the vegetables would shine through.

You want the broth to be hot when it goes into the risotto. That way the rice begins cooking right away.

Melt 3 Tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large pot.

Add the leeks and cook for about 5 minutes until they are tender but not browned.

Add 1 1/2 cups of Arborio Rice to the pot and stir for a couple of minutes to coat the rice with the butter from the leeks.

Add 1 cup of dry white wine and stir until the wine has been absorbed by the rice.

While the risotto cooks, monitor the heat of the pan carefully. You want to be sure that the liquid and rice bubble gently but that the heat isn’t so high that the liquids evaporate immediately and the rice sticks. When in doubt, cook at a bit lower temperature.

Once the wine has been absorbed, add the vegetable broth one ladle or one cup at a time stirring with each addition.

This is how you make risotto. Add broth about a cup at a time so that the rice is nice and soupy. Stir, stir, stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add more broth. Stir until absorbed. Add more broth. Stir. You get the idea.

You’ll notice that as it cooks (after about 15 minutes) the rice will not only puff up but it will also make a nice starchy broth in the liquid. This is good. Keep adding broth and stirring.

If your pan of vegetable broth starts running low, don’t panic. You can add 1 cup (or more) of hot water and keep stirring in the liquid.

At the 20 minute mark, go ahead and taste one of the grains of rice. More than likely, it will be a little soft on the outside but still slightly firm in the middle. This is good. Risotto should be cooked al dente (or “to the tooth”) just like pasta. Tender but with just a little resistance in the middle.

If it still seems too crunchy, keep on cooking however test the risotto often at this point so you don’t over cook it.

Time to start adding the green vegetables. Stir in four big handfuls (about 1/2 bag) of baby spinach.

Toss in 1 cup of frozen peas. Drain the blanched and shocked asparagus and add it to the pot.

Stir everything together to cook the peas, wilt the spinach and reheat the asparagus. You might need to add just a bit more liquid to make stirring easier.

Chop up some fresh parsley (about 1/4 cup) and add it to the risotto.

Add 1 cup of grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese.

As usual, I’m using Pecorino Romano cheese. It is a sheep’s milk cheese with quite a bit of flavor and zing. Great flavor at a price that won’t break the budget like some of the imported cheese.

By the way, is it cheese or cheeses? I always thought it was cheese – singular and plural but now I’m seeing “cheeses” everywhere. Will it now be mices too? Just wondering.

Stir your beautiful risotto, vegetable and cheese together. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve immediately topped topped with fresh basil and a little extra cheese.

Spring goodness on a plate.

Here’s the recipe.

Spring Vegetable Risotto

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